Tuesday, 2 August 2011

A Dance with Dragons: By George R.R. Martin || Book Review


In the aftermath of a colossal battle, the future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance once again-beset by newly emerging threats from every direction. In the east, Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House Targaryen, rules with her three dragons as queen of a city built on dust and death. But Daenerys has three times three thousand enemies, and many have set out to find her. Yet, as they gather, one young man embarks upon his own quest for the queen, with an entirely different goal in mind. To the north lies the mammoth wall of ice and stone-a structure only as strong as those guarding it. There, Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, will face his greatest challenge yet. For he has powerful foes, not only within the Watch, but also beyond, in the land of the creatures of ice. And from all corners, bitter conflicts soon re-ignite, intimate betrayals are perpetrated, and a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Some will fail, others will grow in the strength of darkness. But in a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics will lead inevitably to the greatest dance of all…

INTRODUCTION: I came across the A song of Ice and fire saga by GRRM about 6 years ago probably just around the time when A feast for crows came out. At the time I was rather new to Fantasy with only a handful of authors like Feist, Brooks, Tolkien…. Under my reading belt, suffice it to say that my reading experience in fantasy was rather limited and starting out I tended to favor books heavy on action and sorcery rather than characterization and dialogue.
So, my first impressions of ASOIF were like its good but damn slow' and please 'A little less conversation and a little more action'. Therefore I read the first four books in the series albeit without the enthusiasm most fantasy fans show for the books although I couldn't just drop off reading the series too(even then I had more sense than that, thankfully!)
My interest was rekindled this year when the TV series of Game of Thrones came out which was truly excellent and quite captivating with a great cast and fabulous script apart from the high budget feel.
ANALYSIS: A dance with dragons is the fifth Book in the series and a rather hefty book (more than 1000 pages). Starting to read I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of writing something I had'nt recognized 6 years ago, Martin pulls readers into his fantastical world with skillful worldbuilding, masterful characterization and memorable dialogue. Martin uses a rotating POV structure to pull his narrative, that works very well, with major characters getting more 'screen time' than other characters who are less focal to the narrative. Amongst the most featured are Daenerys, Tyrion, Jon, Stannis with Cercei, Arya, Bran and Jaime featuring for smaller amounts of time respectively.
I found Tyrion to be my most favorite character this time around, his bawdy character making for very interesting reading, every time Tyrion said something obscenely hilarious Peter Dinklage sprang to mind whose portrayal of Tyrion LAnnister in the TV series is certainly award worthy. Tyrion's troubles have incrased exponentially; with no more lannister gold to compensate for his stature he has only his sharp wits and tongue to get him through tough spots.
Daenerys's rule of Mereen is one full of challenges and the portrayal is very near to reality, with the conquering of the city being shown as the easy part and the administration of the said city far from it. Her decisions are shown to carry ripples across the peninsula. The abolition of slavery leads to many complications that are very well handled by Martin. Daenerys's character matures much this time around with her making many decisions she finds distasteful and with her sacrificing her on her own principles for the good of the people.Daenerys's Dragons for me were one of the best done parts of the novel. GRRM's dragons are more real than any others I've come across, the repercussions of their return into the world and some insight into why Dragons are so significant to would be conquerors are very well written by the author.
In the North, Jon's part this time around was major to the story line overall, but for me the least interesting. Winter is almost come and Jon is shown trying to integrate the wildlings and the Night Watch together to make common cause against the Others, but he faces much opposition for his own brothers as well as Queen Selyse, making for too much bickering for my taste. Stannis, the King on the Wall, is intent on gathering the northern Lords to his cause, with the Northern Lords divided between him and the Boltons. The complications arising from the intermixing of people from diverse religions adds something new to the series.
A dance with dragons is a roller coaster ride with lots happening. The rotating POV structure makes this feeling of smooth flow even more prominent, with Martin moving to another POV before the first becomes boring. Since these POV's take place across the whole huge and sprawling world of ASOIF, it gives the narrative a very epic feel.
The series is known for its twists and turns and complete shockers, in this Dance is no different. GRRM will keep his reputation for being very cruel to his protagonists, and a shocking aspect about the Stark children is revealed.
A dance with Dragons is a very entertaining book, the pages turn by themselves and oft times I found myself appreciating the writing, the dialogue or laughing out loudly at Tyrion's japes. There are a number of great lines with "words are wind" being a very common phrase. There are many other great lines for example:
"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one."

The book builds to probably the most crucial battle in the ASOIF series. But unfortunately, in spite of the its length the Book ends on a disappointing note, with a number of cliffhangers that may not lead up to climax for 3-4 years at the least. GRRM says that the last 100 or so pages had been taken out to kick-start The Winds of Winter i.e. the sixth book in the series, but we have a long and frustrating wait ahead of us before we'll see any of the major plot threads being wrapped up.
Inspite of these difficulties A Dance with Dragons will remain one of the best fantasy books to come out this or any year and come year's end will be on my own and many other's top lists.


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